Day 2 of Royal Commission hearings in Mparntwe

Today the hearings into the detention of children in the Northern Territory continued, where we heard from John Fattore, former Acting General Manager of Youth Detention in the NT and Derek Tasker, the current training officer at the Alice Springs Youth Detention center. 

Fattore was questioned at length about one specific guard, who was known as a “loose cannon” to detainees and had been warned by a superior not to be alone with female detainees due to history of sexual harassment. The guard had received 18 complaints while he was employed from the period of 2002-2006.  An incident finally sparked investigation by the Professional Standards Unit in 2006, however the guard didn’t attend work on the days where meetings were scheduled and did not provide a reason, which resulted in the investigation being dropped. While the guard was dismissed from his role at that point, he was later employed for six months in 2010, and during this period assaulted Dylan Voller.

Fattore was pulled up on a case in which a young girl had been forcibly stripped naked by a female Youth Justice Worker (while being pinned to a bench by Hansen who was questioned yesterday) as a component to a “Cell Placement”- a procedure where detainees deemed “at risk” are detained in specific cells, which requires the removal of any items that could be used for self harm (garments of clothing). However the under garments were not removed which would have completed the procedure that was to justify such extreme action (though could likely have been further traumatizing for the girl). When Fattore was questioned on whether he followed up on the girls wellbeing after the “emotional turmoil associated with Cell Placement” he responded she was provided with a gown, and that it was “not something (he) canvassed at the time.” From the CCTV of the incident it is not evident that Hansen had offered to remove himself from the room to see if the detainee would voluntarily remove her clothes in his absence. Nor were any reports made that this option had been presented.

Throughout this questioning Fattore skillfully dodged accountability of his failures to address these allegations of assault during his time as acting GM, frequently citing the PSU as being the responsible force as well as Ken Middlebrook, the Excecutive Manager of the ASYDC.

Fattore also benefited from a case of convenient memory loss when asked about the misuse of the Aranda House- the holding cells described yesterday by Jamal Turner as resembling maximum security adult prison- after the facility was officially closed but known to have been used in specific situations. Fattore claimed he could not recall the facility being used as punishment for misbehavior in the ASYDC, detaining youths for 23.5 hrs a day or being put in lock down when there were staff shortages.

When pressed by Dylan Voller’s Lawyer, Peter O’Brien, on why he did not follow up on Voller’s complaint he was detained within his cell for too long each day, Fattore stood by his trust of ASYDC’s manager Middlebrook’s assessment Voller was “grossly exaggerating”. Fattore did not feel his trust in the management of NT’s youth detention facilities has been shaken by any “new evidence”, retorting “I thought the purpose of the Royal Commission was to determine” whether treatment of detainees has been “unjust” when O’Brien suggested Fattore’s trust was misguided. This is an insight into the robotic and categorical thinking of Fattore who has been over-seeing the detention of traumatized youth.

Next up was Derek Tasker, notorious for his excess use of force against detainees. His justifications were much less sophisticated than Fattore’s and he revealed a complete ineptness at carrying out his role as a Youth Justice Worker, let alone a training officer perpetuating this ineptness. Tasker begun by admitting his only training for his role he received 20 years ago, which lasted for 3 days.

Tasker detailed a time when he was acting manager of ASYDC and had to manage a “pool of casual staff” which resulted in staff shortages. This was never reported in writing to the relevant officials as Tasker was only assuming a “step in role”, though he was in this position for a total of 10 months. He also spoke of a lack of female officers in Aranda House, where he had worked since its inception in 1997. This imbalance has carried onto the ASYDC, where at the moment there is only 1 female officer.

Tasker admitted officers “wind up detainees” by “talking down to them and shouting at them”- providing an example of what staff might say: “I’m going home tonight and you’re staying here”.

The commission presented an excerpt from a pamphlet given to youths upon their arrival at ASYDC which reads “Different Officers have different approaches, and as a detainee you will need to learn the different ways that officers deal with situations. This will help you predict what will happen to you if you behave poorly.”

Tasker also revealed the woeful way in which communication barriers are addressed when detainees speak no or limited English or have hearing problems- saying he could merely “see it in their face and body language” if they were coping and “they seem quite cheerful and chirpy”. Another tactic was to let the kids be and they’ll help each other out.

Tasker was escorted from the hearing room to his car after the session was adjourned.

Tasker will be cross examined by NAAJA, CAALAS, and lawyers representing Dylan Voller and Jamal Turner tomorrow from 10pm at the Alice Springs Convention. Anyone who can make it to the public hearings should do so.

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